The lights were bright on the 20-foot-tall Christmas tree in the lobby of the Ritz- Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, but not as bright as the smiles on the faces of about 75 Ritz Carlton staff members who gave up part of their weekend to give back to those in need.
The group volunteered Saturday morning at the Ritz-Carlton Naples Family Holiday meal packing event. They packed 40,000 meals – yes, 40,000 – for people served by the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida.
And they didn’t just pack the meals, they packed them with a holiday spirit that was infectious. Everyone wore Santa hats. They brought their families. They set up assembly lines at several tables to fill bags full of rice, peas, dried chicken and other staples. At intervals, they whooped and cheered. Some even danced to the music that blared from a sound system.
The event was coordinated by the United Way of Collier County through Meals of Hope. “Through our 211 help line, we know that hunger is one of the top needs in Collier County,” said Ann Bares, vice president of volunteer engagement at the Collier United Way. “A big thank-you to the Ritz-Carlton for recognizing it and stepping up.”
Victoria Inglese, an engineering project coordinator at the Ritz, said she brought her five children to help those who often don’t have enough to eat.
At another table, Fabrizio Calvo held his son, Paolo, age 4-and-a-half, who smiled shyly as big brother Luca, 9, busily scooped and packed.
Jon McGaunn, general manager at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort, went from table to table, making sure the assembly lines were going smoothly and often pitching in.
Mike Popper, operations director for Meals of Hope, was like a whirlwind throughout the room, directing the packing. With the holiday coming up, kids sometimes worry when their next meals are going to be, he said. Meals of Hope wants to ease that worry and make families feel safe.
By 11 a.m., the group had packed 37,000 meals, but they didn’t stop until they reached their goal. The meals were boxed and stacked, looking like small towers at one end of the room.
The season of giving is alive and well at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples. Many thanks to all for your enthusiasm and effort to aid our mission of fighting hunger in Southwest Florida.